Stadium prospects draw large crowd at November Council Meeting

The published November 8 Council agenda was light – only a couple of project approvals and some board appointments. Yet opposition to the proposed baseball stadium in the city from residents who live in close proximity to the site has been growing, complete with petition drives organized efforts by homeowners associations. Word got around that they would bring their case to the council this month during “Comments from the Public”.

The council chamber, which holds 150, was filled to capacity, with an overflow crowd in the foyer, long before the meeting got started at 7:00pm. After receiving over 40 cards from people who wished to speak, Mayor Bert Premuroso arranged them in alphabetical order and gave everyone their 3 minutes – stretching the discussion past two hours.

Positions of the speakers was mixed. By the end, over 50 residents had their say with about half in favor of the project and half against. Of those against the project, many from the Shady Lakes and Bent Tree communities adjacent to the 117th site, most said they did not oppose bringing baseball to the Gardens, but did not think the location was workable. Traffic, impacts to the children who live in the neighborhood or attend the two adjacent schools, noise, bright lighting, crime, drug and alcohol use and other concerns were raised by a succession of speakers. The proliferation of red shirts in the crowd and strong applause for these speakers, as well as the 400 signature petition presented to the council are all evidence of a strong and growing opposition to the perceived plan.

Supporters of the proposal included a varied group representing business interests (PGA Corridor Association), baseball interests (manager of Roger Dean Stadium, people associated with the Marlins, coaches and officials of local sports, people connected in some way to city or county parks and recreation, the executive director of the PBC Sports Commission), and others who pointed out the economic benefits that could ensue from the stadium. Given the advance warning of the opposition speakers, this parade of boosters was clearly organized.

There is much excitement about the project from its boosters, but also a rather disturbing attitude of “we can’t let a few thousand people in a small part of the city get in the way of this great project!”. While the opposition is clearly coming from a “not in my backyard” perspective, the boosters willingness to reject their concerns in favor of “the greater good” suggests trouble down the road.

Toward the end of the comment period, County Commissioner Hal Valeche, himself a former Gardens Councilman, took the microphone to point out that the county has not taken a position on this project yet and is waiting to see what the city proposes. He pointed out that two of the boosters – Roger Dean manager Mike Bauer and Sports Commission director George Linley, who are county employees, were not authorized by the county to speak in favor of the stadium.

A few of the speakers who were not either for or against the project, pointed out that there are still a lot of unanswered questions, particularly about the finances, and both sides should curb their enthusiasm until more details emerge. Former Mayor Michael Martino, who was present but did not speak, has sent the council a multi-page list of questions that need to be addressed by the council in a workshop. The questions address transparency, finances and the implications to the Comprehensive Plan. (See his questions on PBGWatch HERE.)

The Council listened intently to these two hours of comment and took the concerns of the nearby communities seriously. Mayor Premuroso stressed that the project is in its very early stages and although it is appropriate to consider the effect on baseball in South Florida, the council will do nothing to jeopardize the city’s finances or top notch credit rating. Joe Russo, noting that the uncertainties surrounding the project are causing people “a lot of angst”, said we are “not going to save baseball at the expense of Palm Beach Gardens”. Marcie Tinsley listed transparency as a key goal in anything they do, and suggested that the purchase of the 82 acres from the county should be considered regardless of whether the stadium project happens. David Levy indicated his opposition to selecting an alternative site in the west (eg. near the airport or Avenir) and thought the purchase from the county should be considered, even if just for local sports fields. Eric Jablin compared the neighborhood concerns to the way he felt when the airport was constructed near his home in PGA National – there are ways to make it work. He stressed that the teams and the city are not yet close in the negotiations. He also said “trust us” but verify.

At the end of the session, Joe Russo suggested that we can’t leave this hanging and wants to see a full set of facts on which to make a decision by year end. He asked City Manager Ron Ferris to step up the talks with the teams and the county and try to meet that time line.

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